ABC11 Investigates

Boards of elections under scrutiny statewide

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

With North Carolina's tough new voting law in the national spotlight local boards of elections from around the state were in Cary Wednesday for training.

The ABC11 I-Team has been looking into recent changes that critics say are motivated purely by politics.

In the days since the elections bill became law, a handful of counties have made changes that some fear could have a chilling effect on voting.

Elections officials from those counties had little to say, but their critics were fired up and ready to talk.        

"We've seen it in Watauga County. We're hearing the same may happen in Forsyth," said Bob Phillips, with Common Cause. "There's been mischief in Pasquotank County, and of course, it reeks of politics."

The day after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the voting bill, the Republican-led board of elections in Watagua County shut down two early voting sites. One of them at Appalachian State University.

Now, students, and everyone else in that precinct, which is almost 10,000 people, will have to go to a building a mile off campus, on a busy road, with no sidewalk and no public transportation.

The lone Democrat on the board called it the "stupidest thing" before the vote. Wednesday, the Republican in charge of elections in Watauga County spoke out.

"It's all stuff under appeal, right now, and I don't have any comments at this time," said Watauga Board of Elections Chairman Luke Eggers. "It's not [political]. It's done for efficiency. It's done to speed up the voting process. I can tell you that."

The change made the third largest voting area in the state with 9,300 people in the precinct.  Eggers had no comment about that.

In Pasquotank County, the board voted to block students at Elizabeth City State University from running for office or voting despite the fact they've been doing so for years.

And there too, the chair had nothing to say.

The chair of the State Board of Elections, now also controlled by Republicans, started Wednesday's conference by telling local elections officials they're not political actors -- they're administrators.

"We're looking to make sure the law as it reads is applies," said North Carolina Board of Elections Chairman Josh Howard. "It should be non-partisan. We're appointed [by the governor] and then we are left to fly. We are an independent agency. We don't serve at their pleasure. We don't answer to them. We do our conscience."

Howard says he expects more counties may follow the lead of Watauga and Pasquotank counties, and expects many of the changes to be challenged. Those that are will end up at state board of elections.

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